South By Southwest and Industry Conferences/Festivals
Introduction: The State of Conferences/Festivals
March 2002. It's a strange time to be writing an article about how to use music industry festivals and conferences to build your career, because the effectiveness-and to some extent, the survival-of those events, at least the long-standing ones, is in serious question right now. CMJ's Music Marathon and South By Southwest (SXSW) are widely considered to be the reigning champions of music industry conferences-the best to attend if you're seeking industry exposure, education, and networking. However, both conferences have morphed over the years to become more major-label events, with emerging talent struggling to compete for attention with already-signed acts' showcases or the surprise show by superstar talent (e.g. Nine Inch Nails' surprise CMJ appearance several years ago or last year's Black Crowes performance at SXSW). To make matters worse, it would appear that both conferences are in financial difficulty. CMJ's annual festival 2001 was ill-fated by being scheduled in NYC shortly after September 11-and CMJ was in a bad financial state even before needing to reschedule the event. By the time it was rescheduled, many executives and fans (myself included) had made other plans and couldn't attend, and many scheduled artists had other shows and couldn't perform. Apparently, a 2002 conference is scheduled and I think most insiders are watching to see if CMJ can pull it off. I just returned from SXSW in Austin a few weeks ago, and attendance was similarly way down -- there were rumors that it had declined as much as 25%, though SXSW officials have pegged the actual decline closer to 10%. Whatever the case, the lower numbers were likely due to the poor economy and the generally bad year the music industry faced; the big labels and music companies sent less staff and threw less showcases and parties, and there seemed to be fewer corporate sponsors. Ironically, however, I think all of this turned out to be a good thing, especially for emerging artists. I think SXSW is moving in the right direction.
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